Doctor Science Knows

Monday, August 31, 2009

Cheney, libertarianism, rape

ugh, what a subject line.
publius wrote about The Method of Cheney's Madness. I said:

Let me third (or fourth) the "tribalism, not idealism" explanation. *Everything* becomes a tribal marker for them, which is why they're only playing well in the white South, the most tribalistic subculture in the US (see Albion's Seed for details). There are no questions of morality (torture), or science (global warming), or common sense (Obama's citizenship) -- there is only Tribe. And the more contrary to morality/fact/sense an assertion is, the better it is as a marker for Tribe.

[someotherdude rec'd: The Rise and Fall of Anglo-America: the Decline of Dominant Ethnicity in the United States and The Cousins' Wars: Religion, Politics, Civil Warfare, And The Triumph Of Anglo-America]

ooo, book recs. Thanks, someotherdude!

I really realized the tribalism angle in a discussion at Rod Dreher's, where he was horrified to find that conservative Christians were *more* likely to support torture than liberals are. A commenter there said that he was from the South, and that he thought a lot of people around him don't "really" support torture, but they would hear the pollster's question as really being about group identification, not the purported issue, and answer accordingly.

John Holbo at Crooked Timber writes about Megan McArdle and Rationing again: For all ponies, there is some pony, such that you won’t get that pony.♥ I wrote:

A problem with arguing with libertarians at the level of abstraction is that libertarians have a comparative advantage in abstracting away the actual facts of the world in favor of the freshman-microeconomics models they have concocted in their heads.
Not just economic models. The working definition of libertarianism I have come up with, by observation, is “libertarians do not believe humans are social animals”.

So for instance: if you don’t have any money, you shouldn’t be entitled to any medicine is quite reasonable if the sight of people dying for want of medicine doesn’t bother you, and if you can assume it doesn’t bother anyone else (their families, for instance). If you’re a true *individualist*, the collapse of any sense of community is all to the good, because “community” is a delusion.

What most libertarians *do* seem to believe in is *corporations*. I have never been able to figure out if corporations, in their minds, are replacing communities, or if they’re kind of like individuals only cooler (that is, richer and more powerful).

Martin James:

Libertarians view taxes or laws as the product of “gangs”—aberrations—and believe that humans are naturally self-reliant and independent. They do not seem to recognize that the natural state of a human is in a social group, and that concepts like “property” are functions of particular social relationships, not Platonic ideals.

Either way, I still don’t understand how corporations fit into the libertarian world-view. They talk a *lot* about individuals versus the Big Government, but don’t seem to notice the actions of Big Corporations.

At TigerBeatDown, Sady and Amanda talked about who doesn't believe No means No (answer: conservative older women). I left a comment (which seems to be in moderation with everyone else for the weekend):

I don’t know if I have the fortitude to actually click through and read the studies, but I think you young ‘uns don’t completely grasp the Old Ladies’ position.

They were taught that a Good Woman *never* says Yes, except during her wedding vows. That’s it, the one time Yes is an acceptable answer.

So they were in the position where “No” had to do duty for both “no” and “yes” — both for any gentlemen they want to communicate with, and to themselves. How do you say “Yes” when you can’t admit you want to, and when everyone will think worse of you if you do? Well, one way is to say “no” in a lot of different ways, hoping to communicate subtextually.

The other way, frankly, is to get raped a lot. But you can’t admit you were raped, because as we know that makes you practically a slut. What the younger generation thinks of as “rape” is part of these Old Ladies sexual experience, but they’ve been getting by for decades by denying it was so. Rape is something that happens to *other* women, Bad Women, what happened to me was just the way the world is, only to be expected.

So IMHO for a lot of those Old Ladies what happened to the young woman in this case had actually happened to them, and for pretty much all of the Older Ladies it had happened to someone they care deeply about (mother, sister, friend). If they accept that lack of consent is rape, it casts a pall of horror over their own past, bringing up *way* too many things they’re dealing with by not thinking about.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ted Kennedy; health care; incompetance

Within you may find comments on: Ted Kennedy at Ta-Nehesi Coates'; incompetence as a strategy, at Crooked Timber; health reform, at Obsidian Wings.
Ta-Nehesi Coates, who's a young whippersnapper, asked How did he get that lion of the senate title? What were the nuts and bolts he screwed with to get business done? What's the why and how?. I said:

I think the main reason Kennedy could accomplish so much was that he was an hereditary aristocrat. His life is a textbook example of how that is both good and bad.

Because he came to his position essentially by inheritance, he didn't have to fight for it. He could afford to be principled, but he could also afford to be magnanimous.

Even very conservative Republicans could work with him, because what's more conservative than hereditary aristocracy? Indeed, he wasn't just an aristocrat, he was a *celebrity*, the very highest class of American society, rarified even by the standards of the Senate Millionaire's Club.

The good part of being an aristocrat is *supposed* to be being reared to public service; care for the downtrodden also *supposed* to be one of the emblems of Catholicism. In Kennedy's case they actually worked, so he was an aristocrat in a very Catholic mold, blending the sense of duty with the awareness of not being particularly "elect" in the Protestant sense. In Catholicism, "sinner" and "saint" are not opposites nor mutually exclusive.

And of course, being an aristocrat -- and more than that, a celebrity -- meant that Kennedy's ability to *do* things could not be destroyed by Chappaquidick or anyting else. His hereditary position could not be undone or unmade, so he could get away with things.

[in reply to an accusation of ignorance]
You misunderstand me. I admire Kennedy *deeply* and have for many decades.

But his virtues -- magnanimity, firm principle, kindness, friendliness -- are not enough to explain why *Republicans* got along with him and were willing to work with him. Virtue and strength of character aren't enough; he also needed power, the kind of unassailable power that came from his hereditary celebrity.

The contrast to GWB, of course, is painful and acute. GWB is the poster boy for all the ways aristocracy is a bad idea -- and how of all the hereditary aristocracies, the worst are the ones where the aristocrats think they've *earned* their positions.

TNC's question is *how* Kennedy could do so much. I don't think personality, principle, or a tradition of collegiality are enough to explain why Hatch and others were willing to work with Kennedy -- I think it's that he was, in an American way, of a higher social class than they were. He was able to use that power for good, but the foundation of his power was just as unearned as any X-Men's. (X-Man's?)

Karen in DC wrote:
.. after Kennedy got in trouble for cheating at Harvard, he ENLISTED in the army and served as a private, not as an officer as his older brothers had. So, he had to LEARN how to engage with people from other classes, including live and work with them and take orders from those who were not of a higher class. He had a lived experience as a "regular" person that his brothers had not.

Thanks for the info, Karen, I didn't know that. I'm betting that experience -- and being so far down on the sibling totem pole -- did indeed help give him experience seeing things through other people's eyes.

Nonetheless, his position in public life began and depended upon his lineage -- as the Charles Pierce bio a few years ago said:
If his name were Edward Moore . . .

He would not have served so long, if he'd served at all.

If his name were Edward Moore, Robert Bork might be on the Supreme Court today. Robert Dole might have been elected president of the United States. There might still be a draft. There would not have been the Civil Rights Act of 1991

This is the dream of aristocracy, as good as it can get: someone of such high, unearned position that they can be thorougly magnanimous. Alas for Plato, it doesn't happen often enough to justify the whole system, but at least we can recognize it when it does.

Henry at Crooked Timber posted on incompetance as a signalling device, linking to Scott McLemee's review of Diego Gambetta on Codes of the Underworld: How Criminals Communicate, and makes comparisons to the Italian academic scene:
“Being incompetent and displaying it,” he writes, “conveys the message * I will not run away, for I have no strong legs to run anywhere else. * In a corrupt academic market, being good at and interested in one’s own research, by contrast, signal a potential for a career independent of corrupt reciprocity
I said:

Now *that’s* a theory with broad applicability, if you know what I mean.

I recently read Deer Hunting with Jesus, and was thinking about Sarah Palin and the glorification of ignorance and ill-education in what David Hackett Fischer calls American “Borderer” culture. Gambetta’s theory makes the light bulb go off, for me.

If education is a ticket out of poverty or marginalization, then poor and marginalized people will (rightly) see it as disloyal to the group or the family, unless it goes along with a strong tradition of supporting your parents and extended kin. Proud ignorance is proof that you won’t leave your kin behind—because you have no-where else to go.

Do any of you know if Gambetta talks about such signalling by Japanese yakuza? They are famous for using tattooing and self-mutilation as demonstrations of loyalty and commitment.

von, one of the conservatives at Obsidian Wings, posted about health care reform and his support for Wyden-Bennett. I wrote:

Having read a brief overview of W-B, von, I have a question:

Does any other country do this?

I personally have had *enough* of American exceptionalism and insisting on being the first penguin off the ice floe. There's no point in having a big world if you have to keep inventing the wheel to prove how Special we are.

I also am quite appalled at the idea that the solution to our problem is to give more money to insurance companies. Step right this way for yet more regulatory capture and market failure!

I will also add that the reason I am for single payer is that I abhor means testing. To people of means, means testing may seem "only fair", but in practice it is tiring, degrading, confusing, privacy-destroying, and taxing in every sense. It also inevitably involves huge, invasive bureaucracies and the pushing of much paper, things to which von is deeply opposed.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Blogcomment records: politics division

I am reposting this because it took me so many tries to get the link to the Balloon Juice post right, and because the article is so good. arrgh! *stabs*

At Obsidian Wings, where publius wrote A heartbreaking work of staggering dishonesty, about Michael Steele on health care reform, I commented:

cleek asked:
why are they talking about [obesity]?

Anne Laurie summed it up quite nicely over at Ballon Juice the other day:
Suddenly, out of every media outlet, from the morning talk shows to the political blogs to the Wall Street Journal, comes a new slogan: Americans get less health for more dollars than any other industrialized nation because we don’t deserve good health. We haven’t earned it, and if we insist on using it anyway, we’ll be depriving other, more needy fellow citizens of their fair share. And the mark of our selfish unworthiness is that we’re *fat*.

And of course, this goes double for women, who (a) are more subject to relentless criticism about our weight, and (b) refuse to get in line with the "We're Number One! U!S!A!" crowd, but keep dragging the nation down in international health comparisons with our selfish infant and maternal mortality.

Fascinating discussion at Edge of the American West about the Medal of Honor, and the increasing tendency for it to be awarded posthumously. I commented:

There are also some very real, but unwritten, issues, including commissioned vs enlisted, branch of service, combat arms vs service/support, etc.

I would love to hear you elaborate on these “unwritten issues”. Are they also undiscussed issues, the sort of thing that is “mentioned” with nods and hand gestures, so that they never have to be spelled out?

For instance, you say there are issues of “commissioned vs enlisted”. Do you mean that a given action is more likely to garner the medal for a commission officer? — because the people making the decision are commissioned, too — or for an enlisted? — because bravery is more of an expectation for C.O.s, more beyond the call of duty for enlisted personnel.

I would be astonished if there were not also issues of race and gender, but I dare not guess how they play out.

Thanks for the info, TF.

I’ve been actually thinking about the converse of ScottyMac’s anecdote. The advantage to mostly posthumous MOHs might be that there are no pesky live winners around, to either (a) develop a cult of personality around them, or (b) say inconvenient things. If the object of the award is to develop a narrative of military virtue, it really helps if there’s no living narrator to muddy the message. Or to exploit it for their own purposes, either.


I was thinking more of Julius Caesar, or Sgt. York. We haven’t had a sufficiently charismatic MOH winner collide with reality TV … yet … but it’s a scary thought.

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Health care reform; Trutherism

publius at Obsidian Wings posted on Keeping Perspective about health care, and Barney Frank. I commented, variously:

Why should I accept the devil I don't know instead of the devil I know?

For the reason publius gives: because the current system is reprehensibly bad for many people other than yourself. The devil you know kills people for profit.

If you're afraid of a new massive government bureaucracy, remember that we've *already* got massive bureaucracy -- we'd be shifting it, not expanding the total supply. Your choice is *not* between government bureaucracy and no bureaucracy -- your choice is between Big Government or Big Corporation. If you say you're "opposed to big government", then you are *automatically* in favor of big corporations getting their way. "No large bureaucracies" is not one of the available options.

I might qualify as one of those batSH!& insane Truthers, by Sebastian's standards.

"People in the federal government took no action to stop the attacks"

-- The "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." memo makes this IMHO a matter of historical record.

"they wanted to United States to go to war in the Middle East."

-- the Project for the New American Century (signatories to whose Statement include Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Libby) makes this, also, a matter of historical record.

Does that mean they did it "because"? Not in a planned, strictly-speaking way, *necessarily*, they might just have ignored the Al Quaeda threat because they wanted to go to war in the Middle East -- and Iraq, specifically -- and preventing an Al Quaeda attack did not serve that goal.

So: they failed to protect the country; they wanted war in Iraq. The country was attacked; we went to war in Iraq (though Iraq had not attacked us). Conscious conspiracy? I doubt it. Letting things just sort of happen to get the result they wanted? Not unlikely.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Is there evidence against this hypothesis?

I have this cynical, mean, low-opinion-of-humanity hypothesis, which I've been suppressing for a while. I am posting it at last, partly in hopes that people with greater knowledge will talk me out of it.

Many many details go into this hypothesis, but some of the more recent are:

1. The many-faceted Fail of the planned SGU episode "Sabotage" (as documented by sheafrotherdon starting here and here, especially the replies from Joe M. and the discussion here.

2. Joss Whedon talking about "Dollhouse" and his (and Eliza Dushku's) motives for making it.

What I suspect I'm seeing is men who are living in a world where many (most?) of the women they know are trading sex for something: money, position, access. They're living in a world where sexual harrassment is not a crime, but a perk -- it is accepted by all that a powerful man can do things like make an actress wash his car as her "audition". They don't just have casting couches, they have casting *lives*.

The Gate-PTB and Michael Bay IMHO don't even seem to know what consent *looks* like, much less why it's important. Joss knows better, but he seems more interested in relationships that are like prostitution than those like consent.

This is IMO completely ass-backward. One of the points of prostitution (and, I suspect, Hollywood culture's many variants thereof) is that it's simpler to have a relationship when only one of the parties is treated like a full human being. Consensual relationships, where *both* parties are thought of as people, are pretty much bound to be more complicated and interesting.

Basically, I think Hollywood sexual culture is a cross between that depicted in "Mad Men" and street prostitution. The next person who talks about "liberal Hollywood" gets my Vial of Wrath all over their head.

Tell me I'm misjudging. Go on, do it.

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